A possible Border War showdown was on Kansas University soccer coach Mark Francis’ mind on Monday prior to the start of the NCAA Tournament selection show, but once it was finally confirmed, he had to reflect on when KU last played Missouri.
“I’m trying to think … How long has it been since they’ve been out of the conference?” Francis asked.
He didn’t have to wait long for an answer.
“Three years,” said Caroline Van Slambrouck, who chimed in from across the Rock Chalk Park soccer media room.
The Jayhawks will play Missouri for the first time since the Tigers departed the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in a first-round NCAA Tournament matchup at 1 p.m. today at Rock Chalk Park.
Francis and the Jayhawk seniors are still quite familiar with the Tigers.
The Jayhawks’ head coach has maintained a good friendship with Missouri coach Bryan Blitz, who guided the Tigers to a record of 11-6-3 and fourth-place finish in the SEC.
“Bryan is a friend of mine,” Francis said. “We’ve known each other for years, so obviously I take an interest in how he’s doing, and I see him out recruiting and stuff. They’ve had a good season, and the SEC is a tough conference.”
Much of the Tigers’ success on offense can be attributed to the play of senior midfielder Kaysie Clark. Clark leads the Tigers in points with 17 and assists with 11. Forwards Taylor Grant and Reagan Russell have been the top two beneficiaries of Clark’s assists, as they lead the Tigers in goals with seven and six, respectively.
The Jayhawks will have starting goalkeeper Kaitlyn Stroud back between the pipes to try to shut down the Tigers. Stroud had to sit out in the Jayhawks’ 2-1 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals due to a red card she received in Kansas’ final regular-season game. Stroud got the start in goal against Missouri in her freshman season when the Tigers rallied to beat the Jayhawks, 3-2, in Columbia.
“Our seniors have played Missouri in a Border War game, so obviously for them it’s huge because they know what it means,” Francis said.
Fourth-year junior Liana Salazar also played in the Jayhawks’ last matchup against the Tigers along with Stroud, Van Slambrouck and Jamie Fletcher. Salazar ranked second in Big 12 with 12 goals, 28 points and 59 shots to spark Kansas offensively.
Both the Tigers and Jayhawks came out of the gates quickly to begin the season, but faltered down the stretch. MU started the season 9-2-2 before losing four of its last seven. The Jayhawks jumped to a 14-1 start before dropping four of their last five.
While the results do not show it, Van Slambrouck believes the Jayhawks have played some of their best soccer in their past two losses against Oklahoma.
“Honestly, I would have rather lost two games and grown from that than to go in and not have experience in those tough situations, because I thought we played really, really well against Oklahoma in the second half (of the Big 12 tournament quarterfinal),” Van Slambrouck said.
The winner of the Border War matchup will go on to play No. 4 seeded Washington on Friday in Stanford, California, in the Round of 32.